MANILA, Philippines – “Put yourself in our shoes, please.”
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III posed this challenge to Chinese President Xi Jinping in an interview published Monday, April 20, as he criticized China for its construction activities in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
In an interview with the South China Morning Post (SCMP) on Thursday, April 16, Aquino said this was his message for Xi: “In his downtime, when he’s taking a break, perhaps, I really would ask him: ‘Put yourself in our position, perhaps, even that of Vietnam, and how would you respond to the challenges that are happening in the South China Sea?'”
Aquino pointed out that the territorial and maritime dispute over the West Philippine Sea “is the only contentious issue” in the two countries’ relations. “And removing that is really, I think, a worthwhile goal.” (READ: China to Philippines: ‘We’re destined to be friends’)
Aquino’s statements came as the Philippines protests China’s reclamation activities to build artificial islands in the West Philippine Sea.
On Monday, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) presented photos of China’s “massive reclamation activities” as of April 14.
AFP chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr said the reclamation activities will likely cut the Philippines’ access to part of the disputed sea.
On April 13, the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs said the artificial islands have destroyed 300 acres of coral reefs, and will lead to around $100 million in annual losses among coastal states.
Strategic partnership under way
China’s reclamation activities have also alarmed world leaders.
On Wednesday, April 15, foreign ministers from the Group of Seven or G7, the world’s 7 most industrialized countries, slammed China’s artificial islands in the South China Sea.
US President Barack Obama earlier warned China not to “elbow aside” countries it is in conflict with.
In his interview with SCMP, Aquino stressed another move seen to curb China’s aggression: a proposed strategic partnership between the Philippines and Vietnam, another country that claims parts of the disputed waters.
“We’re actually just defining what it is,” Aquino told SCMP. “We’re working out the details.”
In July 2014, the Philippines and Vietnam announced that they will form a commission to forge a strategic partnership, a stronger, wide-ranging alliance as the two countries face security threats from an aggressive China. (READ: Can the Philippines and Vietnam be strategic partners?)
Experts say strategic partnerships remain vaguely defined, but agree these involve shared objectives to promote regional security, among other things.
Julio Amador III, an Asia Studies visiting fellow at the East-West Center in Washington, described strategic partnerships as “comprehensive: economic, political, and socio-cultural.”
“With the elevation of bilateral relations to a strategic level, Manila expects closer cooperation especially in military and maritime matters,” Amador wrote in a Thought Leaders piece for Rappler. — with a report from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com
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